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What's the difference between tubes and solid state?


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#1 of 38 Alex_C

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Posted November 30 2004 - 12:29 PM

What does it mean? Which sounds better? Are the pluses and minuses for each?

#2 of 38 Arthur S

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Posted November 30 2004 - 04:42 PM

You have to see a tube for a description to "register". As far as audio performance. It comes down to this: tubes are for the well heeled golden ear. Transistors have 99 % of the market and digital transistor amps are going to replace analog transistor amps over the next 10 years.

A solid state amp can be made to sound exactly like a tube amp. Bob Carver proved this 20 years ago and makes an amp, Sunfire, that has connections for either the solid state sound or the tube sound.

#3 of 38 Paul S

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Posted November 30 2004 - 10:32 PM

Tubes (vacuum tubes/valves) have been obsolete since the 1960s.

#4 of 38 Philip Hamm

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Posted December 01 2004 - 12:04 AM

Quote:
Tubes (vacuum tubes/valves) have been obsolete since the 1960s.
This is one of the most laughably ridiculous sweeping statements I've read on the HTF, and I've been here a long damn time!

Unless you're looking at $50K+ systems, don't even worry about tubes. If you are looking at systems in that level you'd probably be better served by "auddiophile" forums other than HTF which is a movie theater sound group that enjoys music, too. And IMO if you're spending that kind of doh rei mi on a music system you need to seriously re-evaluate your priorities, but that's just me.

Tubes are indispensable for musical instrument amplification and professional recording preamp applications. They also impart very nice sonic qualities when used in pro level compressors.

I just bought a new Sovtek 6L6 a couple weeks ago.
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#5 of 38 Paul S

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Posted December 01 2004 - 12:19 AM

"I just bought a new Sovtek 6L6 a couple weeks ago"

Talk about a laughable statement. Why didn't you buy a new GTE/Sylvania/RCA/Ratheon 6L6 tube? Very simply because just about no one makes tubes anymore, they are obsolete!!! A Sovtek tube is nothing to brag about.

#6 of 38 Kevin_R_H

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Posted December 01 2004 - 02:03 AM

Alex,

Philip is right - this is probably not the best forum to ask this question. This is a site geared towards Home Theaters (think DVDs). Subwoofers, multi-channel amps/receivers, comparing 7.1 to 5.1 setups - these are common topics discussed here.

There will be few members who own tube amps/preamps/sources here, and not many more who are seriously considering it. You would do well to look at more "audio-centric" sites to get more balanced answers.

Personally, my 2-channel listening system is integrated with a surround-sound Home Theater. My 2-channel preamp and the 2 monoblocks they drive are "tubed". However, my multi-channel amp (that drives the surround speakers) is Solid State. There's no switching around of wires or anything.

There are certainly pros and cons inherent to each of the designs. But it's the implementation of the technology that matters. Just like there are different types of speakers (dynamic, ribbon, electrostatic, horn, etc), by themselves, it is meaningless. It is how they are implemeted into the final product that determines the "quality of sound".

Bottom line: there are great tube amps (and preamps). there are great Solid State amps and preamps. And there are certainly poor implentations as well.

Let me know if I can help you more,
Kevin

#7 of 38 Alex_C

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Posted December 01 2004 - 02:16 AM

Thanks, Kevin.
I need to find one and listen. The journey begins. ..

#8 of 38 Martin Rendall

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Posted December 01 2004 - 02:25 AM

Alex_C,

If you are serious about playing with tubes, and can work a soldering iron, consider building a preamp kit such as a Bottlehead preamp.

It affords you the opportunity to learn a little bit about how it works as you go, and you'll invariably interact with some real valve-heads when you post on their forum because the damn thing doesn't work after you plug it in. Posted Image

Seriously though; it's a great way to get an introduction to the old tech... just don't electrocute yourself in the process.

Posted Image

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#9 of 38 Philip Hamm

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Posted December 01 2004 - 04:33 AM

Quote:
Talk about a laughable statement. Why didn't you buy a new GTE/Sylvania/RCA/Ratheon 6L6 tube? Very simply because just about no one makes tubes anymore, they are obsolete!!! A Sovtek tube is nothing to brag about.
Really? The amp tech who rebuilt my 1967 blackface Fender Bassman recommended Sovtek tubes over all the (sometimes much more expsneive) competition. When I accidentally busted one I replaced it with another. Sovteks are well respected by many in the music industry. NOS USA made tubes are still available, but can be quite expensive.

The amp sounds incredible BTW through my moden Eden D210 speaker cabinet.

Suggesting that tubes are obsolete for guitar amplification technology is not going to gain you any credibility points.Posted Image
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#10 of 38 Arthur S

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Posted December 01 2004 - 06:13 AM

Phil is right on the use of tubes in guitar amps. They rule. Vintage tube guitar amps are highly coveted. The harmonic distortion is perfect for electric strings.

Tubes also have their place in high end audio. And that place is in boutiques and the homes of the filthy rich. Too bad I am not one of them.

Artie

#11 of 38 John Garcia

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Posted December 01 2004 - 08:12 AM

Tubes are certainly not obsolete, and they are capable of some very nice sound. That does not mean it is 100% better than solid state, but it is a consideration for someone serious (re:picky) about their sound, tweakers, and those who do have some disposable cash.

For a simple 2ch rig, you can get >relatively< inexpensive tube amps. I say relatively, because $1K for a 40w tube amp is still a lot to me, but is by no means in the realm of the stinking rich. Used stuff can be very reasonable too, just like SS gear.

Along the lines of what Philip said, listening to a variety of gear will give you the best idea of what you like, regardless of whether its tube or SS or hybrid.
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#12 of 38 Paul S

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Posted December 01 2004 - 09:09 AM

The following is a direct reply by Sound and Vision that can be found on page 28 of the July/August edition:

"Okay, Internet, get this: tubes are a waste of money! They're hot, they're expensive, and one prominent manufacturer of tube equipment told me some years ago that the tubes themselves have something like an 80% failure rate. AND THEY DON'T OFFER BETTER SOUND. They have higher inherent distortion, are often obviously noisier, and offer much lower peak power ratings than solid-state equiment. They certainly don't last as long. So why put up with the bother? Sound & Vision

Doesn't look like Sound and Vision puts much credence to the superiority of tubes.

#13 of 38 Chu Gai

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Posted December 01 2004 - 09:28 AM

My microwave has a tube Posted Image

#14 of 38 PaulDA

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Posted December 01 2004 - 09:53 AM

Quote:
Doesn't look like Sound and Vision puts much credence to the superiority of tubes.



[rant]Not that I would necessarily disagree with them on this issue, but their credibility took a serious nosedive since their recent Bose review, sans "In the Lab" measurement section that accompanies every other review of theirs I've read. To be cowed by Bose like that is intellectually dishonest and makes the rest of the magazine suspect. While Stereophile might routinely publish subjectivist nonsense, they at least routinely do measurements of amplifiers and speakers (which measurements often diverge from the article, but that's another matter). Sound and Vision's chief attraction, to me, is their lab measurements. If the reviewer liked the Bose system (he's even nominating it for a product of the year), that's fine. I still expect them to be fair and measure Bose gear like they do everything else.[/rant]

Sorry, had to get that off my chest.
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#15 of 38 John Garcia

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Posted December 01 2004 - 10:00 AM

So because S&V proclaimed this, it must be fact. Posted Image Guess all those people out there enjoying tube setups are mistaken.

They certainly don't last as long? The tubes may not, but some tube gear that is over 20 years old still seems to be kicking around, and still highly sought after, AFAIK.

My TV has a tube Posted Image
HT: Emotiva UMC-200, Emotiva XPA-3, Carnegie Acoustics CSB-1s + CSC-1, GR Research A/V-1s, Epik Empire, Oppo BDP-105, PS4, PS3,URC R-50, APC-H10, Panamax 5100 Bluejeans Cable
System Two: Marantz PM7200, Pioneer FS52s, Panasonic BD79
(stolen) : Marantz SR-8300, GR Research A/V-2s, Sony SCD-222ES SACD, Panasonic BD-65, PS3 60G (250G)

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#16 of 38 Paul S

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Posted December 01 2004 - 11:08 AM

John, having lived through the 50's and 60's with tube technology, I can tell you first hand that tubes are nothing but trouble. When televisions used tubes they were broken more than they worked. The TV repairman was a very common site at EVERYONE's house. The TV's had two major controls that you don't even know about these days. Those controls being a vertical hold and a horizontal hold. Half the time when you turned a tv on you had to adjust these controls because the picture always seems to be rolling. As soon as the tubes got a little weak the picture was rolling. Half the time a brand new tube right out of the box only tested 50% good. I hope you have a tube tester if you are using tubes, even new is no guarantee that they are any good. Incidentally, there was a time when EVERY drugstore had its' own tube tester and sold tubes. Tubes are highly prone to failure.

If you like tubes, so be it. Personally I don't want any tube gear not even for free.

#17 of 38 PaulDA

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Posted December 01 2004 - 01:27 PM

The vast majority of TVs, contrary to impressions on the web, are still tube driven CRTs. I don't think the state of tubes is that bad. Is tube audio gear better, or even worth the extra maintenance? Open to debate, I'd wager. Some people like to tinker and enjoy the tube "sound". I say let them have fun.
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#18 of 38 Nick Bum

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Posted December 01 2004 - 03:33 PM

We use tubes when we mix audio. RCA Sutido uses tube amps to power the monitors and so does Oceanway studio's. And most of our equipment is tube or vaulve. And trust me a tube amp for guitar rocks the socks off a solid state.

#19 of 38 ChristopherDAC

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Posted December 01 2004 - 04:14 PM

"Tubes" vs. "solid state"?
A thermionic valve is, typically [RCA NuVistors are a notable exception, as are the Russian matrix ICs], a glass envelope resembling a light bulb within which a hot piece of metal gives off electrons. Various electrodes are used to turn this electron emission into a current or currents and manipulate it by the application of voltages, which may be signals. Owing to the curious phenomena of space charge and vacuum current, it is possible to design a single tube to perform a very complex operation or set of operations. On the other hand, they are bulky, have delicate parts, are sensitive to manufactiring tolerances and handling, require a great deal of labour to produce, may generate high levels of random noise, use a great deal of energy, get very hot, and are very liable to failures in service. Owing to physical limitations of solid-state components, vacuum-state valves are an indispensable part of high-power and high-frequency operations. Most video display units on the market use an extremely specialised tube to output a complex pattern of light.
Semiconductor valves perform functions analogous to thermionic types, by manipulating electron flow through certain materials rather than empty space. Although fabrication is very sensitive, with a well-managed process they can be fabricated in extremely large numbers, at an extremely small size, with a minimal cost per unit. For this reason the emphasis is upon ganging together large numbers of a small variety of types to perform operations, rather than developing new types for discrete functions. They make possible much of the complex information technology of today, and are frequently used for handling analog signals especially in consumer equipment. Most video display units on the market use solid-state devices to drive their kinescope tubes.
In general, the variation in performance between solid-state units is much less than that between vacuum-state units, either within the same model or across models. Also, since vacuum-state equipment is often produced on a limited basis for a market which has a tendency to adopt ideas based not on objective merit but on idees fixes without much rational foundation, it is possible to pay an immense sum of money for a vacuum-state component which will render poorer performance than the cheapest available solid-state unit.
But the point of home entertainment equipment is happiness. If that dull red glow makes you happy, go for it. If you like black boxes better, likewise. As much as I hate to say it, with all the people going around claiming that such and such measurably inferior item is somehow "better" or "more natural" or "more open", objectivism can be taken too far.


#20 of 38 RobertR

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Posted December 02 2004 - 12:14 AM

Quote:
since vacuum-state equipment is often produced on a limited basis for a market which has a tendency to adopt ideas based not on objective merit but on idees fixes without much rational foundation, it is possible to pay an immense sum of money for a vacuum-state component which will render poorer performance than the cheapest available solid-state unit.
That's the key to it right there. It's the "I don't care about objective accuracy, I care about what I like" attitude. One thing I would like to point out is that a guitar tube amp is meant to be a sound producer, not a sound REproducer, so it doesn't have to be accurate to anything.


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